Draft Review: Titans look set at offensive line, receiver
After missing the playoffs, the Titans focused on both line play and skill positions in the draft.
By GREG POGUEFS Tennessee
Grading the picks
Round 1: No. 10 Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Review: It was no secret the
Titans coveted a guard with the franchise’s first No. 10 overall pick. When North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper was taken three picks earlier by Arizona, the selection of Warmack became a no-brainer. Teamed with free agent signee Andy Levitre at left guard, the Titans filled a huge hole at right guard. Couple that tandem with steady veteran tackles Michael Roos on the left and David Stewart on the right, then the Titans have the core for a solid offensive line for several years. Warmack, an Atlanta native and Alabama product where he was part of three college football national championship teams, seems particularly keen in playing for two Hall-of-Fame linemen in Titans head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews.
Round 2: No. 34 Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Review: The Titans turned a lot of heads when they moved up in the draft by trading their No. 40 overall pick, plus a seventh-round pick this year and a third-round pick next year, to select Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, who entered the NFL Draft a season early. Obviously, the Titans had the rangy prospect – he’s 6-foot-4 and 197 pounds – graded as a first-round talent to make him just the fourth receiver selected off the draft board. After playing only three games as a sophomore at Tennessee because of a knee injury, Hunter came back last season with 73 receptions for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 90.3 yards per game. Coupled with second-year receiver Kendall Wright, the Titans are set for the future at receiver. That puts veterans Kenny Britt and Nate Washington on notice that the future of the receiving corps might already be in camp.
Review: After their two first draft picks were on the offensive side of the ball, the Titans made five of their last six picks defensive players in an effort to bolster a defense that gave up the most points in the NFL last season. They started with Wreh-Wilson in the third round. The Titans are pleased with current cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, and young corners Coty Sensabaugh and Tommie Campbell have show promise, but they needed another shutdown cornerback. They got it with Wreh-Wilson, who stands 6-foot-1 with an arm length of 32 inches. At his pro day, Wreh-Wilson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds after going 4.45 at the Combine. The Titans were most impressed with his closing speed on receivers at the Senior Bowl in January.
Round 3: No. 97, OLB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
Review: Although the Titans seemed set at linebacker with Colin McCarthy in the middle and Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown on the outside, Titans head coach Mike Munchak said before the draft to not be surprised if the Titans drafted a linebacker. That’s because he felt they are usually the best athletes on the field and can do multiple things, including special teams. In Gooden, they get the fastest linebacker in the draft. Gooden ran a 4.47 at the Combine. He also topped all linebackers at the Combine in the three-cone drill and short shuttle and did 27 reps in the bench press. A three-year starter at Missouri, Gooden finished his college career with 256 tackles. “You can’t teach speed and you can’t tackle someone if you can’t get to the play,” he said after being drafted.
Round 4: No. 107, C Brian Schwenke, California
Review: It was an avowed mission for the Titans to fix their woeful offensive line, so they went out and signed top free agent guard Andy Levitre and drafted in the first round another guard, Alabama’s Chance Warmack, for the other guard slot. Just prior to the draft, the Titans re-signed veteran lineman Fernando Velasco, who seems to be the short-term answer at center and a versatile backup up and down the line. Then again, is Schwenke a center or a guard? His first three seasons at Cal, he played guard before moving to center last season. In all, he started 20 games at left guard for the Golden Bears, four at right guard and 12 at center. Known for his long mane of hair down his back, Schwenke also brings nastiness to his game. At the Combine, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 31 times consecutively.
Round 5: No. 142, DE Lavar Edwards, LSU
Review: One of the glaring needs for the Titans either through free agency or the draft was to bolster their pass rush, meaning go and find a defensive end or two who can pressure the quarterback and make plays up field. Sure, veterans Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley are solid at best, and the Titans did sign former Kansas City end Ropati Pitoitua as a backup, but there was the notion the team would look hard and long at filling depth here earlier in the draft. Edwards started only six LSU games last season, but still tied for team lead in sacks. At an athletic 6-4 and 277 pounds, Edwards appears to be more of a project than immediate impact player.
Round 6: No. 202, CB Khalid Wooten, Nevada
Review: By choosing another cornerback in the draft, the Titans showed their concern for depth at the position. Once again, the Titans were lured by speed. Wooten ran the second-fastest time 40 time for cornerbacks at the Combine at 4.43 seconds. Also, the Titans went for size at the corner, too, with Wooten standing 5-11 and 205 pounds. The former high school quarterback also returned punts and kickoffs on the collegiate level, returning 16 punts last year for 242 yards, so he can provide depth there, too. He also has big-play potential, intercepting 10 passes while at Nevada, returning two for touchdowns. He also isn’t afraid to come up and make a tackle, too, having 127 career stops in essentially two full seasons of play at Nevada.
Round 7: No. 248, S Daimon Stafford, Nebraska
Review: The Titans wrapped up their draft with Stafford, a first-round All-Big 10 performer last season after recording 96 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. The Titans hope free safety Michael Griffin returns to Pro Bowl form, and they signed two veteran strong safeties – Bernard Pollard, former of Baltimore; and George Wilson, formerly of Buffalo – through free agency. Stafford is more adept at run defense than pass defense, so the Titans view him more of a possible solution long term at strong safety, especially since they have so much already invested in the position for the next few seasons.
After selecting former Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright in the first round last season, the Titans revealed their concern at wide receiver by moving up in the second round to select Tennessee’s Justin Hunter. That was only enhanced by the fact that Titans general manager Ruston Webster and head coach Mike Munchak were steadfast in saying the positions of need were offensive line, defensive line and secondary heading into the draft. In getting Hunter early in the second, they get a talented receiver who many felt was first-round worthy. Obviously, the Titans are concerned about the wide receivers position going forward. Talented yet oft-injured wide receiver Kenny Britt, the former first-round draft pick, is heading into a contract year. And it is apparent the Titans feel veteran receiver Nate Washington is getting long in the tooth by dangling him pre-draft as a possible trade.
The Titans considered California center Brian Schwenke as the best center in the draft. And this was a draft heavy in offensive line prospects. So, imagine their surprise when he showed up available in the fourth round. While veteran Fernando Velasco appears the starter at center after being re-signed recently, the position is still a long-time concern among starters on the front line. With more teams running zone blocking, and the emphasis to keep third-year quarterback Jake Locker upright and open holes for running back Chris Johnson, don’t be surprised if Schwenke works his way into the starting lineup. While listed as a center, Schwenke also played guard collegiately, so his versatility along the front is hoping to be a luxury for the Titans down the road.
The Titans did little through free agency and the draft to address concerns at defensive end. There were many pundit who felt the Titans might even take a rush end with their No. 10 overall pick in the first round. They must have more confidence in veterans Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley than the general public. In drafting LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards in the fourth round, it almost seemed like they felt they had better pick something at that position before it got even later. Edwards only started six games as a senior last season, and he has to be considered a collegiate underachiever. In fact, he had only three more tackles his senior season than he did as a freshman.
With head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews both Hall-of-Fame linemen for the franchise, it is no surprise they would have any more to do with an inadequate offensive. So after signing top free agent guard Andy Levitre and drafting both guard Chance Warmack in the first round and center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round, they appeared to fill holes immediately up front. Warmack appears to be perfect at the position for many years to come. After their first two picks were on offense, six of the next seven selections were on defense. Depth at cornerback and linebacker was taken care of when they took, respectively, UConn’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Missouri’s Zaviar Gooden in the third round.
Needs not met
The Titans did little to nothing to address the lack of playmakers and depth along the defensive line. After all, this is the defense that gave up the most points in the NFL last season. At defensive end, where returnees Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley lead a lean stable, fifth-round pick Lavar Edwards seems more like a project than a player who can provide quality plays this coming season. While the Titans did sign former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Sammie Hill to take up the slack for losing Sen’Derrick Marks through free agency, there were no players drafted to provide depth at defensive tackle. While the Titans’ defense appears solid at linebacker and secondary, the front has emerged as the leading concern for the team heading into this season.